"Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, "I am an alien and a stranger (as we all are as believers; 1 Peter 2:11) among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead." (Gen. 23:1-4) This is an important chapter in showing Abraham's faith in God's promises even when he is grieving the loss of his life partner Sarah. He buys a cave (most were buried in the open) looking to the future for God's Word to give them the land He had promised them. And that promise was given 62 years earlier and all Abraham owned in the land that God had promised to him was a cave, and that he had to buy.
"He came both to mourn and to weep." "Tears are a tribute due to our deceased friends. When a body is sown, it must be watered. But we must not sorrow as those that have no hope; for we have a good hope through grace both concerning them and concerning ourselves." (Matthew Henry) Death is seen as evil in the Scriptures as part of the Fall and the curse of God; ("You will surely die.") It means separation – the body from the soul, loved ones from each other and spiritual death – separation from God because of sin. (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 6:23) But as believers our faith in Jesus should really make a difference when we are dying or at the death of a loved one. Our hope in heaven when facing death can be a powerful witness to unbelievers and there is a window of opportunity and vulnerability to the gospel for our unbelieving friends. (I came to Christ when my first wife died.) "And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope." (1 Thess. 4:13) "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. They were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city (heaven and heavenly rewards) for them." (See Heb 11:13-16, 39)
Listen to Randy Alcorn's comments about death from his book Heaven. "It was foggy and chilly. She could barely see the boats alongside her. Florence swam for fifteen hours. She begged to be taken out of the water. Her mother, in a boat alongside, told her she could make it. Finally, physically and emotionally exhausted, she gave up and stopped swimming. They pulled her out. Then, when Florence Chadwick was on the boat she discovered the truth: the shore was less than a half mile away. She was 98% of the way home. At a news conference the next day she said this: "All I could see was the fog. . . . I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it." (This refers to her attempt to swim the shore of mainland California not the English Channel, which she did swim.) Can you relate to those words? We live our lives in a fog of trouble, worry, doubt, depression, health problems, unemployment, financial uncertainty, strained relationships…and loss of loved ones. All these things create a fog. It's difficult to see in front of us. We end up focusing on the fog because we can't see the shore. Sometimes we feel like giving up because we don't have the strength to stay afloat any longer. This is where the people of God throughout the ages had a source of strength and perspective that for some reason we don't talk much about today: Heaven."
Abraham was motivated by God's promise for the land of Canaan and thus bought property there because of his hope in the future. And in the very next chapter we see him refocus on God's plan to bless all the nations through him and his descendents and makes plans to seek out a bride for his son Isaac. "I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac." (Gen. 24:3-4) "If a person takes that which is earthly too much to heart, when it is taken away despair can rush in. In times of grief only a living faith in the eternal will keep us from despair." (Sickness unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard) Abraham believed God's promises so strongly that he did not take Sarah back to Ur and bury her – he looked to the future and believed God would give them the land he promised. And God did give them the land (some 400 + years later!); then again in 1948, and will once again in the Millennial Kingdom. (Isa. 62:6-12) Even Joseph had so much faith in God's promise for the land of Canaan that he told his Jewish people in Egypt to take his bones back to Canaan after he died. (Heb. 11:22)
"Genesis ends with a full tomb, (Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rebekah; Jacob and Leah; see Gen. 49:31-32) but the gospel story ends with an empty tomb! And because Jesus Christ lives, we who trust in Him never need fear death." (Warren Wiersbe, With the Word)
"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12) If you want to live foolishly and without wisdom, live like you will never die. Number your days, for every day matters. We only go to bat once in the game of life. We don't want to be like Florence Chadwick and give up when we are almost there. "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith." (Heb. 10:35-38)
Questions for reflection/application
What did the Lord say to you through this message?
How much does the hope of heaven and the promise of heavenly rewards motivate you to trust and obey the Lord?
"God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit (eternal rewards) what has been promised."(Heb. 6:10-12) What promises has God made to you that are not yet fulfilled? As His people, we believe that His promises extend beyond this brief life.
Until He comes,
Len and Kristen